Identity is exactly what Del Exilio puts at the forefront of its recent album Panamericano. With names that harp on the Cuban-American bands’ ethnic identifications and triggers of exile, alienation, double consciousness and universalist nomenclature, one might dismiss Del Exilio as over-reaching racial lineage. However, I think we can pull back and imagine, if for just one second, the political power of a unified Pan-Latin American or PanAmerican front of free thinking, free expressing and ideally, educated and liberated Latinidad, stretching from the farthest tips of South America to those seemingly lost Canadian Latinos making hip-hop and resisting invisibility in their own way.
Panamericano does just that, though in a seemingly pop-rock gushing way. It takes Quechua lyrics and turns them into our own language in “Peruvian Groove,” it takes Spanish and English and meshes them into something new, proclaiming double identity as a new identity on “200%.” Though its hip-hop moments might fall flat on tracks like “Taco,” reminding more of a naive or innocent era of commercial 90’s Latin-positive rappers, this is the kind of album I wish I’d heard on the Disney channel as a kid. Reverting back to stereotypical references to Latin food at the end of the track, might seem like a flaky way to recant multiculturalism back in style, but if one listens carefully to the transitions and composition by producer Jose Luis Pardo of Los Amigos Invisiibles, this album might be something more than just a cheesy ploy.
With the work of Justin Goldner on bass and conga master, Igor Arias there’s a sense that front man, David Sandoval is smarter than the lyrics. With additional vocals by band mate Sarah Talbot, the smooth-chemical romance on the globe trotting single, “I Got A Mobile ♥” makes for a definite Disney music video moment. “Tu y Yo” sounds like a pretty generic, Latin American love song, but it works well, smoother even, than the more political spewing moments of the album. “Santa Maria del Buen Aire” takes on at the jazzy qualities of Cuban counterpart, Angel d’Cuba who similarly proclaims a trans-Latino identification on his recent release, Heritage. It’s funny in fact that at this moment we’d be ushered towards two Cuban voices, one aged and one younger, one Afro-Caribbean and one Miami-bread, as if a long forgotten wall between the island and the U.S. were not blocked by cultural embargoes and dichotomous ideological warfare of any sort, as if the Cold War left no significant mark. Music then might actually transcend polarizing efforts of any kind.
Whether it’s a sort of residual neocolonial effect of exile or a simple shift in mindsets, the possibility of blanketing over cultural difference and racial determinants along a “Pan-American” multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and egalitarian community, however unlikely, still remains in the cultural imaginary as an out against the indignations suffered by Latinos, immigrants and liberal minded sympathizers in the US nonetheless. Del Exilio does best on tracks like “Una Vida Nueva York” and the rawer, vigorous and shy of defiant “La Rebellion” when the mixing of sounds is at its pinnacle. I’m not sure the project reaches the musicality artistry of past pseudo-politcal National Geographic efforts like, Jairo Zavala‘s Depedro or the elemental musicality of Ases Falsos phenomenal release, Juventud Americana. However blocked by the pop-processed kitsch feedback there’s potential behind the voices and instruments at play, of course because they’re exceptionally executed. I don’t know when they lost the twangy-U.S. American folk element of their first album, but I hope they get it back.
I think I’ve said this before, but bands like Del Exilio and LoCura could take a chapter from the artistically liberated Latin American indie world (La Vida Bohemia comes to mind) and just let their freak flags fly. Just make raw, unfettered, rock people. Let get off the Latin tropes and make unfettered Americana with occasional brushes and subtle, heartthrobs of Latinidad. We’ll be waiting with open ears. Until then, my little cousin might be enjoying Panamericano a little more than me. Affirmations and cultural platitudes might not be enough when it comes to music. In fact, lyrics aside, the music on here is a decent homage to Santana sounding Los Lonely Boys rock at times. But they already did it, and yes I’m a bitter old soul in a young man’s body who likes garish, dark, broodying unhappy music.
This is, much to my chagrin, happy music for happy people. If I wasn’t already long time friends and fans with Chicago’s very own the Luna Blues Machine, I might have begged where the female leads, which shone brighter on Del Exiio’s first release, went on this one.